How to grow and care for a Judas tree

Judas tree, Cercis siliquastrum

The Judas tree, European redbud or love tree (Cercis siliquastrum) is one of the best ornamental trees you can grow. It has beautiful spring blossom – in late spring, the bare branches are smothered in pea-like magenta flowers, which are followed by pretty, heart-shaped leaves that turn butter yellow before falling in autumn. Purple seed pods appear in summer.

As it’s slow growing and relatively compact, reaching around 4.5m x 4m in 20 years, the Judas tree is one of the best trees for small gardens. It’s often multi-stemmed, which means it has an architectural appearance even when the branches are bare in winter.

There are a few theories surrounding the tree’s English name. One suggests it was the tree that Judas Iscariot hanged himself from after betraying Jesus. However as the tree grows widely in Israel and Palestine, it could be a corruption of the word ‘Judea’. 

The Judas tree is closely related to the Chinese redbud (Cercis chinensis) and the north American redbud, Cercis canadensis. They are both smaller than the Judas tree and equally attractive, with slightly different growing requirements.

How to grow a Judas tree

For best results grow your Judas tree in well-drained soil, in a sunny, sheltered spot. Mulch annually with well-rotted leaf mould, garden compost or well-rotted manure. Prune only to maintain its shape if needed.

Judas tree: jump links


Where to grow a Judas tree

Flowers on a Judas tree, Cercis siliquastrum
Flowers on a Judas tree, Cercis siliquastrum

Judas trees hail from the Mediterranean, which gives plenty of clues about their requirements – they thrive in a sunny spot and well drained soil. They tend to do best in milder areas of the UK. Grow at the back of a border or as a standalone tree in a lawn. Judas trees do not do well from being moved, so choose your planting position carefully.


How to plant a Judas tree

Most Judas trees are sold as pot-grown plants, so can be planted at any time of year. Spring and autumn are best, when the soil is warm and moist.

    1. Dig a square hole as deep as your root ball and twice as wide
    2. Remove the rootball from the pot and gently loosen the roots. Sprinkle some mycorrhizal fungi around them to help the plant establish
    3. Place into the planting hole. Backfill with a mix of soil and garden compost or well-rotted manure
    4. Firm in gently and water in well

Where to buy a Judas tree online


Caring for a Judas tree

Pruning a Cercis siliquastrum
Pruning a Cercis siliquastrum

Water a young Judas tree regularly after planting until its roots are established. Mulch in spring in order to promote healthy growth. Established trees are reasonably drought tolerant, so do not need watering.

Judas trees flower on growth that is at least one year old, so bear this in mind when pruning. Trim annually after flowering to maintain the plant’s shape if needed. 


How to propagate a Judas tree

Cuttings

You can take semi-ripe cuttings of your Judas tree from late summer to mid-autumn. These are made using this year’s stems, when they are woody at the base and soft at the tip.

  1. Cut a stem just below a leaf that is 10-15cm long
  2. Remove the lowest leaves and the soft tips, leaving three or four leaves 
  3. Insert into a small container filled with cutting compost or 50:50 peat-free multipurpose compost mixed with horticultural sand or perlite. Water well and allow any excess water to drain away
  4. Place in a greenhouse or on a sunny windowsill

Seeds

You can sow Judas tree seeds (saved from last year’s pods) under cover in spring. Transplant your seedling to its final position when it’s around two years old. It will take around six years to flower.


Growing a Judas tree: problem solving

Judas trees are generally problem free but may be affected by a couple of fungal diseases.

Verticillium wilt is a soil-borne fungal disease that causes yellow, wilting leaves, especially in dry weather, and dieback on stems or branches. There is no chemical control. You could try cutting out affected areas and feeding the plant, but as the problem persists in the soil, the only solution may be to dig up and destroy your plant.

Coral spot is another fungal disease that manifests as coral coloured pustules on dead branches. Prune out affected areas promptly.


Advice on buying a Judas tree

  • Check that you have the right conditions for growing a Judas tree – they need a sunny, sheltered spot and well drained soil
  • You may find Judas trees at the garden centre, but for the best selection, look online

Where to buy a Judas tree online


Best varieties of Judas tree to grow

Cercis siliquastrum ‘Bodnant’ – masses deep purple-pink flowers in spring. It holds the prestigious RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM). Height x Spread: 4m x 4m

Cercis siliquastrum f. albida (or ‘Alba’) is a white-flowered form with pale green leaves. H x S: 4m x 4m

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